Photo of Amber S. Johnson

A Strong Defense Can Make All The Difference

Photo of Amber S. Johnson

A Strong Defense Can Make All The Difference

POSITION OF POWER: Officer v. “Reasonable Person”

Police Officer use of force is an ever-growing topic of discussion in today’s society. The news and social media have allowed people to not only hear about, but actually see, videos where force, even deadly force, is used.

The take away, whether you agree with the officer’s actions or not, is that if an officer is telling you to do something, DO IT. Their authority is obvious and intimidating. They have the power and they will decide how to wield it. If you want to avoid trouble, listen, be polite, and answer their questions.

The Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable search and seizures. This means that an officer cannot stop or seize a person without legal justification. In order to stop or seize a person, the officer must be able to state facts he has observed that gave him a reasonable suspicion that thatperson was involved in criminal activity.

So, what is a “seizure”? Some seizures are obvious: A peace officer activates his lights and siren and pulls over a vehicle driving on the road.; An officer draws his gun and yells “Stop! Police.”

But other interactions with police are questionable and may not be seizures at all: When a officer waives you over to talk or ask a question.; When an officer asks for your driver’s license or where you live.; When an officer walks up to you on the street and asks, “How’s it going?”

According to the law, it is not a seizure if a reasonable person would believe that he was free to leave and terminate the interaction.[1] This definition contains a presumption that there are situations where a reasonable person would feel that he was able to ignore an officer or his questions or terminate the interaction by walking or driving away.

Perhaps some “reasonable people” would feel that way: “reasonable people” from certain races, socioeconomic statuses, residential areas, ethnicities, genders, etc.

But then there are other “reasonable people”. These “reasonable people” may never believe that they are free to ignore or terminate interaction with an officer. These “reasonable people” may believe that doing such a thing would only lead to use of force or possible arrest because, ignoring can be interpreted as eluding and terminating interaction can be interpreted as hiding something.

In today’s society, where most people have seen or heard about officer’s using force in many different situations, perhaps the definition of “seizure” should take into consideration a different standard of “reasonable person”, a standard that recognizes the type of person that lives in today’s country.

[1] Matter of Welfare of E.D.J., 502 N.W.2d 779, 783 (Minn. 1993).